Music Cognition

My academic research has principally focused on Music Cognition, specifically emotional and physiological changes in music listeners on the time scale of seconds and minutes. My (ongoing) dissertation is focused on the timing of breaths as people listen to music. For past and recent blog posts on music cognition, click through.

Respiratory Adaptation to Music Heard

My dissertation work focuses on when people breath when listening to music. I stumbled across statistically alarming consistency in the timing of inhalations in the Solo Response Project and have gone on to work on detecting and explaining how a musical stimulus could influence a (seemingly) passive listener to breathe at specific moments of a piece. More on the theory here and the technical side of it here.

A Perceptual Definition of Music

Definition: Music is a broadcast signal enabling sustained concurrent action.

Does that seem reasonable? Too broad? Too vague? Here is a post describing these components in more detail, out of a poster taken to SMPC 2015. This theoretical position comes from a few attempts at bringing forward the active elements of musical experiences, including those of listening to musical recordings.

Analysis of Continuous Responses to Music

Continuous measurements of response to music offer so much for investigation of how musical experiences develop over time, and I’ve been working with these traces of response for over a decade now. I’ve worked with self-reported continuous ratings, such as  single dimension ratings of tension and two dimensional ratings of emotion, and psychophysiological measures of emotion like sEMG of facial muscles, skin conductance, heart rate, and more recently, breathing. But by their nature, these measures capture many aspects of listeners states which are not directly related to the music or the research question at hand. Activity Analysis is one analytic approach which focuses on the coincidence of response events across many participants or many listeners responses on the time scale of seconds. A review of other analytic approaches to continuous responses, most to ratings, are also documented in the Continuous Response Analysis Wiki, constructed and populated during my MA.

The Listener’s Responses to Music

If music theory taught me anything, it was the value of looking carefully and critically at one’s own experiences of music. In order to better understand the relationship between the available measures of response to music and a listeners subjective experience, I undertook the Solo Response Project. Over the course of a month, I listened daily to a randomly ordered playlist of music while hooked up and actively reporting as the music played. Out of that has come a number of surprising questions about music’s many means of influence, including motivation for studying respiration, and respect for the great variability of experiences a single recording can provoke both within listeners and between them.

Given these results, I’ve continued to explore the consistency of experiences within listeners through the repeated response case studies. For my dissertation I collected the same plethora of emotion related response measures from four listeners of differing characteristics. I’m working specifically their traces of respiration, but the full sets of 12 listenings to 11 stimuli will be made available as open data soon.